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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Faith

Tshering sat in his chair and struggled between his faith and his disillusion - an intense tug of war in his mind. His up-bringing told him that he had to have complete faith. Even the stories he read as a boy said that if one has complete faith and blind devotion, then one can find the Buddha in the most unlikely things/places. But the modern educated man in him questioned the being before him. He recalled who some of his friends called the Rinpoche, "Rinpoche James Bond" and talks about womanizing and partying kept him occupied and very confused.

He would have not been there in the hall had it not been for his best friend, Kinley. While Tshering was confused, Kinlay on the other hand was fully immersed in everything devotional. He sat next to Tshering, peacefully luxuriating in the warm radiance of the Rinpoche.

The Rinpoche finished his oral transmission and the audience applauded. The Rinpoche smiled and said that the applaud was not necessary. He was not a show-man but still thanked the people gathered in the hall.

Later outside the hall, Kinley and Tshering were with Kinley's mother. The Rinpoche was passing by and the three stepped aside. They bowed as the Rinpoche passed by.

"Your son?" Rinpoche asked Kinley's mother. The mother nodded in response.
"How come? An ugly monkey like you to have a handsome son like this boy!" The group of people following the Rinpoche laughed and some giggled. Tshering saw Kinley's Mother going red and trying an awkward smile.

Tshering didn't know what to feel, he was caught by surprise. Later he felt deeply insulted even though the remark was not intended at him or his mother. He felt anger on behalf of his friend. He felt it was justifiable as Kinley was his best buddy. He couldn't believe how the Rinpoche could say such a thing in front of everybody to one of his most faithful disciples. But he held his thoughts.

Later when Tshering was alone with Kinley, he finally shared. He expected similar and equal feelings from his friend if not very overwhelming. But he was disappointed with his friends respond.

courtesy: flicker.com
Kinley said,"The Rinpoche said those words on purpose and for a good reason."
Ahem...
"By embarrassing my mother in the crowd, the Rinpoche was cleansing my mother's demerits."  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Story Writing in the classroom

Stories have always been part of our lives. We grow up listening to bedtime stories, we watch movies and read books but writing a good one is so difficult.

Story writing carries 30 points out of 100 in the English BHSEC (Year 12) exams. Another 30 points is for argumentative essay writing and the remaining cover the language and the grammar. A student has to manage writing all of the above within 3 hours. Say if we budget the time: 1 hour for essay, 1 hour for story and the remaining 1 hour for the rest. So, finishing it can be very stressful.

I have to teach my students to write a good story within one hour. I manage teaching but I am not confident if I can write a good one myself within 1 hour.

So, in my class we try to workout few plots which we may be able to fit into any plot that is demanded by the question. Slight changes to the plot and and we are writing the story asked by the question. Some of the things we can have ready for a story are: setting, the main character and few conflicts. But the emphasis on using from one's experience is given a lot of importance. Our children are fascinated by everything foreign; people and places. So they set their story in New York, Korea and their characters are foreigners, not realizing how easy it would be to use places they are familiar with and the people they have known/know.

Most of the students also feel that a story begins with the main character being born and growing up, falling in love, heart breaking and then ends with the main character becoming successful/dying old. Doing this sometimes also makes the story monotonous, especially if the writer is not very skilled. So rather than writing a story like the one mentioned above we write a narrative-descriptive essay.  A narrative essay is not different from a story, it has all the elements and it is easier to write if one sticks to things that s/he experienced; certain experiences that they remember because they were interesting/funny/sad.

The most difficult aspect in story writing, I feel, is creativity. But in case of writing one's experience the writer needn't worry about it much. In doing this, the students can always be creative and make changes where ever they think, the changes might make their story more intense and exciting. Another thing is that it is easier form them because no body can tell their story better than themselves.

The students start by working in groups of four or five and later they write their story individually.

Four maps are the worksheets that get the foundation of the story laid.


 1.The Setting Map
picture courtesy www.buit.com
     
Where does the story take place? 
When does the story take place? 
Certain descriptions of sound/small/place 

2. The Character Map  
    
Name of the character       
Gender of the character  
Positive qualities 
Weaknesses

3. The Conflict Map

What is the problem?
What causes the problem?
External conflict/Internal conflict?

4. The Resolution Map

What leads to the solution of the problem?
What are some of the changes in the main character/other characters?

As I watch and monitor my students planning, discussing and writing their own stories I take a break and wonder "Why the first Bhutanese to win a Booker prize or even the Nobel in literature may be right here."



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ethics in Statesmanship

The story 'Test' written by Theodore Thomas is studied in class twelve. It is a futuristic story where people who want driver's license are made to go through a hypnosis. The State hypnotizes the applicants and they are made to experience a traumatic accident. The man who represents the State mentions that the primary objective of the test is to make drivers more careful. But what the State truly intends to achieve through the test is to make the people refuse their driving license. And those people who still want a license even after the traumatic experience are taken into custody.

The theme of the story is very interesting and it presents a lot of room for critical thinking and interactive sessions in the classroom. We can have debates and panel discussions on the theme. The theme is "Ethics of the power of the state to control its citizens". 

So, as expected, discussing the theme was very interesting. It was very interactive. We started with questioning, "Why should the government control its citizens?" The collective response was very intelligent. They (students) felt that the Government/State should control the citizens through good law and policies because there has to be order.  But if the State is not ethical, it misuses its power and that would lead to injustice and rights of the citizens getting restricted.

A story like this came with the new curriculum. As a student the stories I read in my English textbook were very good. The language, plot and the theme were also good but they didn't have pressing issues to discuss. And even if there were, the teachers didn't facilitate much discussion. Through a story like this, I believe, our students will become more critical/analytic of  how the state is functioning and realize the possibilities of the state misusing its powers and their right to question the state.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Saturday Movies

The Media and IT Club in my school shows English movies on saturdays when there are no other programs. The saturday movies are English movies and they are presented solely to help the students develop their English listening skills. Like one must read to write good english, one must first listen, to speak.

This initiative was born last year when we had an American English teacher. Her name is Sarah Shmitt and together we decided that good hollywood movies would do our students a lot of good when it comes to developing listening skills and picking up functional English usage in their everyday conversations.

So far the media club has only been able to present two Hollywood movies; The School of Rock and Pitch Perfect. But these movies were received well. The students enjoyed them and hopefully we will be able to let our students watch more good Hollywood movies in the future.  And I am pretty sure that we will be able to because the school administration is very supportive. The saturday movies are not compulsory, so we picked movies that are not so serious but fun and movies that tell stories to which they (students) can easily relate. Million Dollar Baby was picked once but we decided to save it for a later time when our audience are more matured with their listening skills. The next movies waiting are: The Book Thief, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, The Giver...

As an English language teacher, I also see how I can discuss the elements of a short story through these movies. Each movie is a story and so it has all the aspects of a story like plot, setting, characterization, conflict and resolution. Writing the story of the movie in their own words will augment their story writing skills and some can even get creative by changing certain things in the story if they want to.

I hope the 'Saturday Movies' become a good culture in the school. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

No Hitler

The Inter House Speech Declamation Competition was the third literary program conducted in my school this year. We had some larger-than-life personalities and like every year we had Adolf Hitler. As far as I can remember we have always had students declaiming Hitler in speech declamation competitions. Even as a student I remember many Hitlers winning the competition. Hitler would commence and end his speech with thunderous applause from the audience. As a student I didn't understand his speech but I liked seeing Hitler in these competitions because he was the loudest (most of the time) and the most amusingly dressed character with his most queer mustache. My teachers never told me more about what he did and why he is remembered.

The class twelve boy who took up the role this year, presented an impressive performance. He did well but he did not win. A part of me found joy that Hitler didn't win the competition but another part of me felt sorry for the boy who lost. It was not his fault that he lost nor was it because he choose to declaim Hitler. It was my fault as a teacher or our collective fault as a school for only teaching what is in the textbook. We did not and do not make our students realize that Hitler is responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews out of the 55 million deaths during the 2nd World War.

As the Hitler this year went on shouting "Jews!" "Jews!" "Jews!"the hall roared with laughter.

So starting next year, Hitler will be barred from the declamation competition and the teachers will explain why. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Exam Hour


It is a beautiful day. The sun is shinning. The birds are chirping. The sun’s ray flicker on the leaves as they rustle in the gentle breeze that gushes softly from the river below. Inside the class, the fans swing their hands slicing the air like warriors in a heated battle. The fans’ rotating sound is disturbing. Other than the soft flipping of the pages, falling pencils and pens and a little cough here and there, nothing is heard in the room. A pin dropping on the floor can be heard. Naïve but stern faces over papers are a spectacle to observe as each individual face has a story to tell.
 
First, there are the ‘no-nothing’ faces that are the easiest to spot in the group. It is amusing to watch them as they sweat and scratch their heads as if doing that will make the answers fall out of their jammed heads. Their eyes linger in mid-air thinking about what they should write just for the sake of not leaving the answer scripts blank. But at the same time it is painful to watch their struggle. There are moments when I feel I could help them, may be give them some clues, point out some correct multiple-choice answers etc. But I cannot forget that I am a teacher and being there is to make sure that the exam goes fair.

The next are the confused but ‘little knowing’ faces. They also have their own share of the struggle - the price they pay for not working before. Since there is not much to write, the part they do write is given all the time they have and as far as the neatness is concerned they get full marks leaving aside the correctness of the answers. They are also interesting to watch. They roll their eyeballs here and there hoping to catch a glimpse of what their friends are writing. Some stretch their necks so much towards their friends’ scripts that I have to ask them to stop or they might turn into a giraffe.

For some, the exam comes as a delight to satisfy themselves with the answers they promptly know. And for others still, it is the reward for all the hard work they have put in. Some receive the question papers, go through it, and smile a satisfied happy smile as if they got the toy they always wanted for their birthday. Some smile at the question paper as if they have met a long lost friend. Their smiles sing of happiness. It is a smile you are happy to join, as a teacher.

However, in the end everyone is happy. The exams are over and a vacation is waiting.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

To fall in love with a Book

A good book is like a beautiful dream you want to go back to. The feeling is also like you are falling in love for the first time but all over again. But this time your lover is your book.

It can even make your spouse jealous because you laugh, cry and even sleep with it. You can't help but ignore the world because the moments with it are so very sweet. You forget everything and almost everyone. But the poor book is blameless. How can anyone blame the flower for being sweet? You steal moments with it like new lovers steal kisses when the world is busy. Like them you can't keep your hands off it. But there are many good points about loving your book than your wife or your girlfriend. For one the book doesn't expect any gifts, it doesn't feel neglected when you read another book, it doesn't get moody and I can go on writing.

So, to fall in love with a book is a special excitement. The feeling is almost nubile for me, at least the wanting to be with it. Like Mr Right/Ms Right, it doesn't come everyday but when it does it will make your day. Most of you must have felt this love.

At the moment I am in love with George R.R Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Nature of Langauge

The Nature of Language was not studied in the old English curriculum. It came with the new and it came with a wide possibility of answers that can come from anywhere, as long as it concerned language albeit the syllabus, which I doubt I can call one. The teachers were given three pages of notes on theories of language acquisition, levels of analysis and other basic terms in linguistics. I received the notes from a colleague of mine who attended a workshop on teaching Nature of Language. The same thing was to be taught from class nine till twelve (as far as we have been informed). Students have to write answers to 10 points under this section in the exam.

Since the questions (set by the teachers who are put together by BIG SEA) don't follow the specified notes, most students lose marks in this section. Few questions always surprise/confuse us. Students may lose only one or two points but they lose and sometimes they don't qualify for a RGoB scholarship because their English marks is one or two points short.

BHSEC, English, Teacher's Guide

If I may, I see this section allotted to Language as very ambitious but bleak and obscure to most teachers,  given the material for teaching and our (teachers) knowledge of Language. Further more, the BHSEC teacher's guide ask teachers to invent activities on language study. I am lost as an English Language teacher with the Nature of Language.
Forgive my ignorance if I am wrong but I see little requirement for school students to study this in school and if they have to then the curriculum should cut out a clear and definite sub-curriculum for teaching Nature of Language and the teachers should be convinced why this has to be taught.
  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Role Playing

I remember my language teacher and Shakespeare. He would try to impersonate a victorian theatrical scene with the Shakespearean English that he so stylishly uttered to our bewilderment. Most of us then were amazed with the strange poetic language heard for the first time and few were, of course, dumb struck because the English was different and difficult. But the excitement only lasted for the first few periods. After that it was only listening to the teacher, period after period. Even the most promising student slowly drifted away into daydreams.

Thinking about it right now, a role play would have made the whole awesomeness  more exciting or simply put, more durable and understandable.

Today students don't have to study Shakespeare. Instead they have one act plays, 'Once Upon a Greek Stage' in class eleven and 'Episode in the Life of an Author' in twelve. Going by the teacher's guide, most teachers I know start with a role play. And how they, the students, enjoy their role play.

Today I had to watch the same drama role played four times and each time the drama became more exciting with the characters improving with their dialogues and the acting. Each team is a performing theater group. The teams have leaders, who also took the role of the director. Since they work in groups, they are talking, laughing and discussing which keeps them awake and engaged, even if it is the last period.

Role playing has made my work easy and fun. The students enjoy the role play and enjoying it makes it easier for them to understand the story of the drama. They also pick up basic acting skills and in the future they may make it big with acting, as a career.


But this is the closest we get to a drama class in Bhutan. I wish there was more to it than the short plays and the role playing. 



Monday, April 28, 2014

Why didn't the poet use simple language?

Today, one of my students asked me why did poets write poems in languages that were difficult for the students to understand. He said,"Why didn't the poet use simple/straight forward language?" It was a straight forward question and I tried my best to satisfy him with an answer.

I told him to compare two sentences:

  1.   "I miss you" 
  2.   "I miss you like the dry earth misses the fresh showers of spring. "
I asked him which one did he like.

He said that he liked the second sentence. I asked why and he said the second sentence was more beautiful and I asked him why again and he said because the second sentence was talking about spring. 

Then I told him to close his eyes and listen to the second sentence when I read it. I asked him what pictures did he imagine when he heard the words. He told me that he saw the rain in spring. I asked him what else did he see and he said, "flowers". I told him to imagine the rain on his face and asked him if he would like the feel of the gentle rain in spring when feeling hot. He said "Yes". Why? "Fresh feeling". 

So, I told him that the language used by the poets are far more beautiful than the other language one reads in other forms of literature. The words used, create pictures in the reader's mind and touches the soul. The images used, arouse emotions of love, romance, happiness and sometimes even loathing. In this case, the intensity of missing the other person is compared to the dry earth and its happiness when receiving the fresh showers of spring. This is a powerful image if we are imagining the words. So many emotions/feelings are aroused if one tries to imagine: dryness, heat, beautiful spring, freshness, and the gentle rain.  




Friday, April 18, 2014

Teaching Poetry

I have always loved poetry. My all time favorite is Ulysses by Tennyson. At the moment I am teaching 'We are Seven' by William Wordsworth and it is a joy to read it aloud with my students. Every word conjures pictures so vivid that I can't help but live the moments and sing the song.

Before reading the poem, my students wrote their own poem on the title 'We are seven' and that was an overwhelming experience to draw the pictures with their words. Pictures of seven stars that wrote, pictures of seven friends they spoke, and pictures of the seven beautiful colors of the rainbow arched over snow caped mountains and the wide open sky did they draw. It is a beautify poem, 'We are Seven', the simplicity with which Wordsworth touches on the subtle pleasure of being innocent and living in ignorance of death and the bliss that follows.


We Are Seven

BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
———A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage Girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet Maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

“You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little Maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

“And often after sun-set, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

“The first that dies was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

“So in the church-yard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
“O Master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
’Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

Thursday, March 6, 2014

To Kill a Bear

In one of my classes we were discussing commitment and bonding in the story, Bluffing, by the canadian writer Gail Helgason.
In the story the two main characters come across a grizzly bear. They face it together but one runs aways and we were later discussing which character was more committed to their relationship. With this there was brainstorming and sharing of understandings of bonding and commitment.

One of my students wanted to share a story he heard. He didn't go into the details but said that, a father and a son can kill a bear but not two friends. He said since there was a stronger bonding and commitment between the father and the son, they would not abandon each other but the friends may only think about themselves and render themselves vulnerable to an attack. So, a father and son can kill a bear but not two friends.

I never heard the story/saying before but I felt its message was very augmenting to the values that enrich our lives.
I am very happy that I have students like this boy. His name is Nono Jimmy and he is a bright boy.    

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ten Reasons why I want to go back to school


Winter vacations are good times. They give me moments where my time is not controlled by the bell. A time to be with my family, a time to set aside time and forget it doing things I love doing.
But in the middle of forgetting time I can’t forget that I don't get to do the one thing that I love doing: being back in school, teaching. So, here are some good reasons why I want to be back in school.

Reasons:
1. For the Attention
I can never ignore the tremendous attention I get from my students when I am in the classroom. I never lose my audience. It is one of the best reasons why I want to go back.

2. For Feeling Useful
When I am in the classroom I feel useful. I feel useful to my young friends and myself. Almost everyday I go home with a feel of “time well spent”, every day I teach and I learn.

3. For More Laughter
I also realized after much contemplation that I get to laugh more when I am with my students. They have never failed to appreciate my sense of humor and I thank them for that.

4. For Speaking English
I love speaking English. In school I get to speak more English than any other time.  No other language is capable of rendering me the help I need when expressing my ideas.  Like Khushwant Singh I can also say, without any doubt, that my mother tongue is English thought my mother is not English.

5. For More Friends
In school I have more friends to indulge with. We play games, sing songs, dance, joke and do many things that celebrate life.

6. For Feeling Younger
Being surrounded by young people can’t do me more but invigorate me with the energy to make me feel young and strong every day. No day is a lazy-one in my school.

7. For Learning
As much as I teach, I learn everyday. I may not be able to list all the learning but it is very evident when I retrospect on where I am and where I was before I became a teacher.

8. For Feeling Important
English is very important not only as a subject but also as a tool of defining oneself with the world or to the world. I make my students realize this and stress my subject’s importance like any teacher stresses on his or her.

9. For Love
My students exhibit the love for my subject and me almost all the time.  I feel welcomed every period; be it the last or the first period of the day.   

10. For My Love of Literature
Poetry, stories, essays and drama excite my days. I have been teaching the same stuff for seven years but I never get tired of it. Ever year I get to try new approaches and get creative with my strategies.
We draw pictures with words that express the human emotions in a very profoundly beautiful way. And these pictures drawn using words are far more revealing and overwhelming than the pictures shot by sophisticated cameras.